Pabst Brewing Company is for sale, and a group of Milwaukee natives want to bring the brewer, whose flagship beer Pabst Blue Ribbon soaks the tacky floors of dive bars across the country, back home.
Pabst was founded in Milwaukee in 1844 and fled the upper Midwest for Los Angeles in 1996, where it has brewed suds — it also makes Schlitz and Old Milwaukee — for nearly 20 years. The sale could “fetch between $500 million and $1 billion,” according to Reuters. But the price tag didn’t scare off Susie Seidelman, a Milwaukee native who has spearheaded a grassroots effort to bring Pabst back to Brew City.
The initiative started — where else? — on the Internet. “My friend, Nichali Ciaccio, saw an article online about Pabst being for sale,” Seidelman wrote in an email. “He posted it on Facebook, saying something to the effect of we should bring it back home.” They got to talking and Ciaccio skipped town for a two-week vacation, when Seidelman took the reins. Bring PBR Home has grown quickly, with nearly 2,500 Facebook likes and a website collecting signatures.
Siedelman, who works at a foundation managing environmental programming, isn’t a venture capitalist or a brewing magnate. “I can’t just call them up and say ‘Yeah, I’m totally interested in buying your brewery, but I have no money so can you give me, like, a couple months?’” she writes. “I actually tried to do that, and they hung up on me.”
So the group proposed a model of ownership that will give residents a stake. Similar to the Green Bay Packers, who have 364,122 shareholders, the reformed Pabst would be community-owned and would feed, the website explains, “profits going back into the community, and structured to prevent future purchase, reorganization or relocation.” It even has the support of Jim Haertel, who owns the former Pabst Brewing headquarters, which is now a tavern and gift shop.
“There’s nothing I’d like more than to see Pabst come back to Milwaukee,” he told the Milwaukee Business Journal. “Not many people gave me a chance when I wanted to open this place… but we did it once before, we can do it again, but we do need some people with a lot of money.”
It’s sort of a crazy idea. Will the city even listen? “So the plan now is to grow the movement, collect a whole lot of signatures to our two open letters (one to Dean Metropoulos, owner of Pabst, asking him for first right of purchase, and the other to the Mayor and Common Council of Milwaukee, asking them to take this idea seriously),” she wrote. “When it comes time to pull the money together, we intend to crowdfund the living bejesus out of it.”
Seidelman sees Bring PBR Home as “a totally different approach to the way the City does business, to the prospect of sharing resources to benefit everyone, and about the need for innovative and different approaches to our most pressing problems.” It would also, the argue goes, bring more jobs back to the area.
In the meantime, she’s reasonably hopeful that a deal, though seemingly far-fetched, can work out. “For some reason, I am [hopeful],” she said. “I realize this is insane, that the odds are very much so not in our favor, but this is also one of the worst reasons I can think of for giving up the ghost.”
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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.